Path to the Possible


We are reading David Hume in my ethics class now, parts of both An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and a Treatise of Human Nature.  I assign Hume to give students a break from the raving rationalism of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Mill, and Kant.  In Book 3, Part 1, Seections 1&2 of the Treatise, Hume says we can only know something is moral or immoral by using what he calls our sentiment (i.e. passion/emotion/feeling).

Take any action allowed to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find the matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In whichever way you take it, you will find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You can never…

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